A rescue crew helps Appalachian Trail hiker Anne Renner of Illinois to an ambulance after she fell July 30 and seriously bruised her leg. Maine Warden Service photo

GRAFTON TOWNSHIP — Anne Renner’s first trail-name was Cheshire, after the cat-themed pajama pants she wore on the Appalachian Trail. After she seriously injured her leg at the Mahoosuc Arm on July 30, it was changed to Airblazer. 

Anne Renner is photographed while hiking on the Appalachian trail before she had to be airlifted July 30 from Mahoosuc Arm. Photo contributed by Leah Rachell, of Lynchburg, Virginia

Her rescue included an ex-Marine assisting her to a shelter and helping pull her across Speck Pond on an inner tube, and a forest ranger lowered from a helicopter to grab her for a flight to safety and medical care. There were hiking companions, a nurse and others all along the way.

The day of her accident, Renner rose at 4:30 a.m. with Allison Olson and her husband, Ryan, from their campsite at the Speck Pond Shelter between Old Speck Mountain and Mahoosuc Arm, which descends into Mahoosuc Notch.

That stretch is nicknamed the “toughest mile” and is considered by many hikers to be one of the most challenging sections of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.

The trio made it to the shores of the 36-foot deep pond before making their way up into Mahoosuc Arm.

Hikers there basically traverse along a ridgeline. The trail descends in a series of quick drops onto jagged rocks, eroded enough so hikers can step instead of jump. As they enter into Mahoosuc Notch, hikers brave a mile of boulders squeezing in between rocks, and crawling through narrow caves. 

As the trio ascended the small mountain that led into the Arm, they were in good spirits.

They made it about two-tenths of a mile before the accident.

Ryan and Allison walked over a rock. Renner followed. She leaned forward, put her trekking poles down and braced herself.

The rock was a bit damp from the morning dew. The weight of her backpack propelled her forward, she slipped, pitched forward and landed on her right shin, directly on a pointed rock about 4½ feet down.

“It hurt a lot in the moment, and I knew I did something wrong, but I wasn’t sure how bad it was,” Renner said.

Once she calmed down, Ryan and Allison helped her get her pack off and used hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes to clean a cut on her leg. They laid gauze, and wrapped an ace bandage around the wound.

Renner had a prescription for an anti-inflammatory medication for a previous injury and took it to get ahead of the swelling.

Ryan and Allison were certified in wilderness first aid and Renner was previously certified as a first responder, so all three had a base knowledge of what to do.

Renner checked the range of motion in her ankle, and tried standing on her leg. It seemed fine.

They debated continuing down into the Notch, but the Olsons had their trepidations. They were 5.5 miles away from the closest road and the chances of getting Renner rescued would dwindle the farther they descended into the Notch.

They decided to hike back to the shelter to take stock of Renner’s injury. 

“We didn’t want to go further down the Arm and have my leg flare up,” Renner said.  

It didn’t take long. She walked 20 feet before the pain hit.

“I was just dry heaving into the bushes. I broke down. That’s when we realized something was really wrong,” Renner said. 

Allison crafted an immobilizing brace for Renner’s leg while Ryan ran back to the shelter to get help.

As Allison and Renner waited, a nurse arrived and a northbound hiker called 911 at 8 a.m. 

Two other hikers, trail names Trout and Cheap Chardonnay, who Ryan met at the shelter, showed up. Trout, an ex-Marine, helped Renner get back to the shelter, over a mile away, sometimes helping her crawl and limp along. 

“He wanted to carry me, but because of the terrain, I didn’t want both of us to fall again, and both of us getting hurt,” Renner said. 

Two hours later, the impromptu rescue team reached the shore of Speck Pond and knew that traversing the rocky shore would be too dangerous and time-consuming.

“There were sharp rocky ups and down around the lake. They’re like, ‘you’re not walking that. We’ll swim you across.’ It was way faster and less painful,” Renner said.

So, Trout and Ryan put Renner on an inner tube and dragged her across. 

The shortest path out of the pond and onto the nearest side-road was 3½ half miles and Renner knew she couldn’t make it that far. The anti-inflammatory pills had worn off. She was swelling, and, in her own words, ‘done.’

Renner decided to call 911 for the second time. 

“When we called 911, they told us to stop moving,” she said. “We tried to figure out the best plan. Because of how steep the climb was, they decided that a helicopter would be the safest way for everyone.”

They walked over to big wooden foundations used as tent platforms, and Trout took off his neon orange shirt and waved it around. A ranger was lowered from the helicopter by a rope and grabbed Renner. 

She eventually was taken to Rumford Hospital and learned her leg was bruised but not broken.

“I always worried if I would be calm, cool and collected during the situation,” Allison said, “but there was never a moment where I was panicked.”

The moment she let the emotions set in was while Renner was airlifted, she said.

“That’s when it hit me; this could be hike-ending … before that, everybody was focused on what was the best way to get her down,” Allison said. 

Renner ended up at the Rattle River Hostel in Shelburne, New Hampshire, about 26 miles from where she fell. She is staying there until she can figure out her next step.

But her first stop will be back at Mahoosuc Arm to conquer the section where she fell.

She has some advice for other trail hikers.

“If anyone ever finds themselves in this situation while out on the trail, you know you’ve got other people who are rooting for you, who don’t even know you,” she said. “It’s a really amazing community.”

Allison and Ryan will continue to hike the trail and if or when Renner decides to return, Allison said she’ll have a new name for her: The Comeback Kid.


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: